Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Insufferable Genius

Thanks to blog reader Kim Moldofsky for sending this one in... A parent of a highly gifted 3-year-old wrote in to John Rosemond, a McClatchy Newspapers advice columnist, about how to deal with the daughter's lack of respect for adult authority. Now, the 3-year-old was definitely getting away with some bad behavior (such as telling her grandmother that she was the boss of the house). But reading the response, boy, does Rosemond have a chip on his shoulder about something.

You can read the exchange here. Sample quotes include:

*"You're not going to make any progress with this child as long as you think you're dealing with some unique being that represents a quantum evolutionary leap for all of humanity."

*"She is rapidly turning into a 3-year-old insufferable brat, and no one is more insufferable than an insufferable genius."

*"Stop treating her like she's an adult! Take her to a restaurant, and before you go in, let her know that you are doing the ordering, not her. If she doesn't like it, take her home and serve her beans and franks. Stop letting her make decisions that you would not be letting her make if her IQ was 100. Pick out her clothes for her in the morning, and don't let her come out of her room until she has put on what you picked out."

*"In every situation with her, ask yourself, "How would I handle this if my daughter was a normal, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety 3-year-old?" Then treat her that way, and if she doesn't like it, send her to her room until she's willing to accept her new reality."

I'm curious how the parents of precocious young kids who read this blog have managed to keep their children in check without keeping them from making all decisions on things like clothes. I thought raising self-reliant children was a good thing... But even more, I think Rosemond doesn't recognize that there are certain discipline issues that arise when a child's brain is older than her body. Simply berating parents for acknowledging this doesn't help. How have you dealt with this?


Anonymous said...

This is typical Rosemond. The question most worth asking here is how has a man who clearly dislikes children and doesn't respect parents become the most popular syndicated parenting columnist in the United States? He often advocates very harsh treatment of children including sending pretty young children to bed for the rest of the day without supper.

As far as how to keep the child in check, for me that isn't a concern. The goal isn't to keep a child from exercising power in his own life or over his own choices, but instead to encourage the child to become a respectful and kind person. I believe the best way to accomplish that is by treating the child with kindness and respect. Also, it is important to have an ongoing dialogue in the family about these topics.

Rosemond is right that parents can go for shock and awe and demonstrate their power over children, but I wonder how weak are the parents if this is the best way they can think of to teach. And, really how insecure do you have to be to be intimidated by a child ordering for themself in a restaurant. What is that about?

Silvermine said...

It doesn't matter how smart a kid is, they still need to be told to respect the rules.

My son knows he won't get what he asks for unless he asks for it nicely -- "May I have blah blah please" works. "I want blahblah" does not. We just then prompt him to ask for it nicely. (Honestly, if he wasn't smart we probably wouldn't insist on this. But I know he can do it, so he has to. There are other things he can't do as well as kids with his intelligence (like controlling his emotions) and he'd never be epected to do something he doesn't seem to be able to manage yet. It's all about knowing your kid and how much is reasonable to expect from them.

I have no idea what his problem is with her ordering in a restaurant though. My 3 year old does the same thing, and does it very well.

He also can pick out his clothes, if he wants to. Why on earth do I care what he picks, as long as he wears it? If he doesn't pick anything, I pick for him.

If my son is told something and doesn't obey, we don't just let him get away with it. What's the point of that? What happens usually depends on the situation. Sometimes we do the counting thing (count down from 5 to 1 until they obey -- whether it's to stop doing something or to go do something). If you get to one, then you go to time out. Or we take away a privilage (if you don't pick up your toys, then those toys are put away for a week).

I dunno. Maybe the guy knows some annoying brat that was allowed to get away with everything. I knew one of those. Very icky.

Anonymous said...

When my 15 year old son was 3, he was busy doing something he should not have been doing. I can't remember now the nature of the offense, but I remember clearly his response to being told to stop. "But I can do whatever I want." It was said in all honesty and not in a belligerent or defiant way. He had realized at the tender age of 3 that there is only so much control one person can exert over another. After temporary speechlessness, I reminded him of the consequences should he "choose" to continue the offending behavior.

In the 12 years since then, we've had disagreements that mostly center on him being a little big for his britches, but it's definitely not worth a battle over ordering food or picking out clothes. If a child is capable of making those decisions on his own, let him do so regardless of age. Good decision making is partly trial and error, and childhood is the best place to start practicing. If she wears shorts to school when it's 40 degrees outside, it's a good bet she'll wear pants and a coat tomorrow.

Gifted children are much more adept at pushing our hot buttons. We are the parents and have to draw the line sometimes, but there shouldn't be so many lines that your home looks like a spider web!

Jenny Kalfut said...

My daughter will be three tomorrow, so this one really made me think. I agree with the previous poster that Rosemond must have met a real doozy of a primadonna at some point. I think the important thing for parents of gifted children is to remember that they are nurturing a whole person and not just a person with great academic promise. I am excited each time my daughter reads a new word or demonstrates that she grasps addition, but I am even more excited when someone comments on how gentle she is with other kids, how creative she is when playing, or how polite she is during playdates and classes. I try to avoid the word "smart" since others comment on her intelligence frequently enough, and I figure that our houseful of books and frequent library visits let her know how much we value learning! All young children, gifted or otherwise, crave attention and acceptance from the adults in their lives. I wonder if the little girl in the Rosemond column might just be bright enough to realize how to maximize attention by using her advanced skills, and her attention seeking behaviors have simply spiraled out of control.

tova2000 said...

I think it is very important to set boundaries early on. I too have a 3-yr old who's been identified as highly gifted - IQ 150 at 2-yrs-11 months. She learned her ABCs, knew her shapes and colors and could count to 10 before her first birthday. She spoke in complete sentences at 18 months and taught herself to read by age 2. At 3, she reads better than most 2nd and even some 3rd graders, does basic math and can write her name. Yes, she does all that and more, but she is also a very delightful child – by general consensus. The difference is that while she recognizes that she is smarter than most of her peers, she never lords it over anyone and we don't treat her differently because of it. We celebrate her unique ability by encouraging her in different ways, but she recognizes there’s a point where we, as her parents, draw the line. As a result, she is extremely well-adjusted, has many friends and is very well liked, far from the picture of an "insufferable brat". When she wants to pick out her clothes, I let her, but make helpful suggestions that still make her feel valued and that her choices are respected. And yes, we do allow her to order her own meals when dining out, as she does do so quite well.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that because a child is functioning at above normal intelligence for their age is no excuse to accept or tolerate insufferable or rude behavior. The fact is we do not function in a vacuum, and that child like all others, will have to learn the rules of acceptable behavior. We as parents should not suppress our children's needs or ability to be independent, after all, self-reliance is also a goal for all children, gifted or not. That said, giftedness in and of itself, is no reason to allow children get away with bad behavior! Our 6-yr old has also been identified as gifted. However, in our household, our children are being raised to be respectful, compassionate and empathetic people and we are helping them understand that intellectual superiority is no reason for disrespectful behavior. As parents of gifted children, we need to be careful to nurture and develop the whole child, and not just the “brain”.

JulieW said...

I would respond to this person by telling them they are very undereducated with life in general. They may believe that everyone is different but they don't actually understand what that means. Could this be the thinking pattern of a person who succeeded fine in school (a controlled environment)??

Parrotfish said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate just a wee little bit.

The parenting style that has become most common among educated, middle-to-upper-class parents these days seems to be ... negotiate. Parents don't want to tread on their kids' delicate, budding sensibilities by forcing them to do what they won't do willingly, so parents try to get the kids to buy into the parents' agenda, rather than imposing it on them. This can mean endless pleading or even bribery on the part of parents.

The problem with this parenting style for every kid, no matter how intelligent, is that it encourages kids to try to manipulate every situation to their own advantage. In fact, it's modeling manipulative behavior, because that's exactly what the parents are trying to do - bend little Joey's mind into WANTING to take that bath. Why shouldn't little Joey work on bending Mom's mind into WANTING to give him ice cream?

Face it, no kid prefers homework to video games, and if the parents show a willingness to negotiate, the kid is going to use that for everything it's worth. I suspect this is what's going on with the business about ordering in restaurants and picking clothes. I mean, maybe your kid never makes healthy food choices and wants to order the super-cheesy-extra-greasy nachos. Or maybe your kid refuses to wear anything that doesn't have pink sparkles. These, in my opinion, would be excellent reasons to put one's foot down, lay down the law, and NOT negotiate.

Now, when it comes to really, really bright kids, the problem is that they have what it takes to become MASTER manipulators. When Mom negotiates, junior drives a very hard bargain, and probably knows how to push Mom's buttons better than she knows herself. So that's why parenting by negotation is extra dangerous with super-bright kids, but it's an easy trap to fall into. So I think that, while Rosemond does come off a bit on the harsh side, he's not wrong in this case.

My two cents.

k-man said...

July 2007 update: The link posted is broken, but here's another for those who want to view Rosemond's original column:


Given the behavior the parents describe, I think his advice is sound.

Of course, Rosemond shot himself in the foot and got his column dropped in a number of newspapers not long before this one appeared in July 2006 by recycling old columns without telling his syndicate. For someone who is supposed to be a beacon of ethical behavior and advising parents on raising ethical children, this was pretty bad.